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Editorial: Deadly consequences of 'stand your ground'

The longer the "stand your ground" law survives, the more often Floridians will be killed in avoidable confrontations by emboldened shooters under no obligation to back down. The recent cases of a man who shot and killed an unarmed teen in Jacksonville and a movie patron who shot and killed an unarmed man at a Pasco County movie theater provide fresh evidence that the Legislature should repeal the law. "Stand your ground" encourages gun owners to shoot first and claim later they felt threatened, and the law has wide-reaching effects on justice even when it is not directly invoked before trial.

The Legislature passed "stand your ground" in 2005, removing the duty to walk away from a potentially deadly conflict if retreat is an option. Before the law changed, defendants had to exhaust "every reasonable means" to avoid danger before using deadly force. Now, with no duty to retreat, defendants can legally meet force or even the fear of force with force if they reasonably fear for their lives.

The implications of "stand your ground" go beyond the law itself, as it can still protect killers who don't use it as a pretrial defense. The Florida Supreme Court modified jury instructions in 2006 to reflect the law.

"If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to … meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony," according to standard jury instructions from the Supreme Court.

At least one juror in the Jacksonville case, where "stand your ground" was not invoked, has said that the jury instructions played a role in the panel's inability to convict Michael Dunn on the charge of murdering 17-year-old Jordan Davis. It's worth noting that "stand your ground" also was not argued in the 2013 trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But the jury instructions reflected the change.

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Times examined 200 "stand your ground" cases and found that the law has been used to defend drug dealers, killers and other violent offenders, many of whom initiated the fight and still went free. This is hardly what lawmakers envisioned when they crafted the law, yet they continue to defend it to appease the National Rifle Association.

The most prudent course is to repeal the law. Short of that, lawmakers should amend it to include a duty to retreat if you can safely escape, but even that has proven too much for legislators in the past. Florida has issued more than 1 million concealed weapons permits. Yet lawmakers are more focused on making it easier to obtain a permit than rewriting the "stand your ground" law that makes shooting and killing someone the first option rather than the last. Floridians deserve better.

Editorial: Deadly consequences of 'stand your ground' 02/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 3:47pm]
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